A bloody weekend in the central Malian city of Gao, which saw multiple suicide bombings and a canoe-borne ambush by rebel fighters, has forced a major rethink for French troops who were just rushing from city to city leaving junta forces behind.
Since then, French troops have been bogged down in Gao, shoring up defenses and preparing for future ambushes and insurgent attacks, something which seems guaranteed to be a long-term issue.
Officials are downplaying the seriousness of the issue at the moment, insisting there are only minor pockets of resistance to be flushed out. Yet the sheer size of Mali and the amount of desert for rebels to hide in means that flushing is no easy task.
Indeed, the Gao clashes are typical of the ethnic tensions that will be fueling this war over the long run, with locals blaming a nearby village of a different ethnicity for housing the rebels, and urging French troops to attack that village as a way of securing the city. With French officials looking for the easy way out, they may eventually do so, but such an attack will add to resentment of the invaders’ decision to install the junta across the nation.